July 28, 2015
Passing the Baton to Bhutan
This month, Humane Society International wrapped up our ground-breaking street dog program in Bhutan, which has resulted in the sterilizing and treating of 64,252 animals since 2009.
The HSI/Royal Government of Bhutan National Dog Population Management & Rabies Control Project was initiated in 2009 in recognition of the need to effectively manage Bhutan’s dog population in a scientific, humane and sustainable manner. The objectives are to reduce the number of free-roaming dogs and to eliminate rabies in Bhutan by 2020 using Catch-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release.
Today, the project is in transition to full government management with 100 percent Bhutanese staff, and under the auspices of a Community Animal Birth Control Program, stakeholders collaborate with the Department of Livestock to follow a plan led by each District Veterinary Hospital. This will enable each district to independently manage its dog population on an ongoing basis.
Timeline of the project
2009: HSI conducted a pilot program in Thimphu Thromde (municipality). Sterilization/vaccination coverage of 25 percent was achieved in just 4.5 months, proving that the model was an effective, efficient means of humanly controlling the free-roaming dog population.
The first Memorandum of Understanding was signed for three years. The biggest challenge initially was the local lack of veterinarians, so at that time, 90 percent of the project consisted of HSI’s Indian veterinarians and para-veterinarians and 10 percent Bhutanese staff hired as dogcatchers and para-vets.
In phase one, the focus was on achieving maximum sterilization and vaccination coverage and improving the animals' health and welfare. Three full-time dedicated teams visited every Dzongkhag (district) of Bhutan at least once.
2012: During phase two, the three CNVR teams came together to make one larger team, now consisting of 90 percent Bhutanese staff and 10 percent HSI Indian staff. A turning point was when 30 Royal Government of Bhutan veterinarians graduated and returned to Bhutan, to be placed throughout the country after training in high quality, high-volume CNVR protocols.
2014: The Community Animal Birth Control Program was initiated in all but two Dzongkhags (provinces) over 14 months. “Tuesday Love Your Dog Day” (TLYDD) was launched and marketed to encourage the community to bring their dogs to the District Veterinary Hospital to have their pets sterilized, vaccinated against rabies, and treated for fleas, worms or other issues.
2015: Phase three is launched, in which the program will be entirely under Bhutanese control. HSI will maintain a monitor in Bhutan to assist as necessary.
Community outreach and reaction to the project
Approximately half of dogs in Bhutan urban centers are registered pets and half are street dogs. Bhutanese generally live in harmony with the animals, but do fear bites and disease transmission. Being a Buddhist country, people provide food for the dogs to earn karma, but provided little additional care. Now, it is much more common to see pets being walked on leads and carried around in public places.
Originally, there was mistrust of our project by the community due to earlier failed dog population management strategies such as shooting, poisoning, translocation and impounding. We have now gained the trust of the people and they assist in dog catching. They are also more responsible as pet owners.
Awareness of the program among Bhutanese households has increased dramatically. In addition to Tuesday Love Your Dog Day, posters, flyers, brochures, banners and calendars have helped, along with audio-visual announcements for TV and radio. We've also held events such as World Rabies Day; walkathons; school talks, quizzes and competitions; and other ceremonies and celebrations.
- Mass sterilization and vaccination programs conducted in every district of Bhutan
- Training/capacity building of local Bhutanese veterinarians and para-vets on CNVR protocols, population surveys and humane handling techniques
- Mass advocacy, awareness and vaccination campaigns in annual observation of World Rabies day
- Launch of the Community Animal Birth Control Program in 18 of 20 districts
- A professional survey conducted to estimate population of free-roaming dogs in Thimphu City
- In phase 2, working closely with and gaining commitment from local leaders to ensure support and sustainability for long-term dog population management in collaboration with the Department of Livestock
One of the measures of impact of the program is the number of puppies. Once, the streets were crawling with them, and now few are seen.
Over six years:
- Mange incidence has dropped by 63.9 percent
- Transmissible venereal tumor incidence has dropped by 64.55 percent
- Pyometra incidence has dropped by 87.4 percent
- Pregnancies have dropped by 60 percent
As per the results of the national survey conducted in 2015, an average of over 70 percent sterilization and vaccination coverage has been achieved across Bhutan. Thirty-five Royal Government of Bhutan vets have trained in HSI's CNVR protocol and over 100 para-vets (nursing/support staff) have trained in HSI's CNVR nursing protocol. TLYDD resulted in a 90 percent increase in pets' being brought to the District Veterinary Hospitals for sterilization and vaccination. As of the most recent survey in Thimphu, the number of street dogs has decreased relative to the human population and we expect this to continue as more street dogs are converted to pets and as replacement breeding declines.
Looking to the future
HSI will continue to work closely with RGoB to check progress on an ongoing basis. RGOB needs to maintain the required sterilization and vaccination coverage, as well as continue with community engagement. Surveys will be conducted to assess coverage, community attitude assessments will be undertaken and monthly reports should be continued. HSI will also routinely monitor the project on the ground to ensure the high standards of welfare are being maintained and provide further training as required.
We're proud of what we've achieved with our government partners in Bhutan and look forward to replicating our successful model in other countries around the world! You can help: Become a Street Dog Defender.